Saturday, September 12, 2015

Strange New World Just Ahead, or: How to Make a Vulcan Feel at Home (Part 10 of 15)

10. Vulcan Rising, or: Can't See DeForest for the Trees 

Said to have been 1,933 years before Star Trek first went on the air.

(No, they didn't have photography back then. The above picture is a Hollywood recreation, from five years before Star Trek first went on the air.)

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984). And so, a badly-damaged Enterprise returns home from doing battle with Khan in a state of mourning. One crew member, though, may be in a state of lunacy. Dr. McCoy has broken into Spock's old quarters and is found mumbling something about a Vulcan mountain in a voice that's doesn't sound much like his. Meanwhile, a Klingon official by the name of Kruge (Christopher Lloyd, better known for such comic characters as Jim Ignatowski on Taxi and Doc Brown in Back to the Future) finds out from his underling/girlfriend that the Federation has a new weapon called Genesis. Of course, it's not supposed to be a weapon, but Khan certainly proved otherwise, didn't he?  Kruge, his girlfriend, pet alien dog, and sundry other Klingons head to the new planet created by Genesis in their Bird-of-Prey, a starship that kind of resembles a starving stork (the term was originally used to describe a Romulan starship in the TV version of Star Trek; that particular spacecraft looked more like a stingray, I've always thought.) Back on Earth, Admiral James T. Kirk is told that the Enterprise won't be repaired but decommissioned, much to his disappointment. He's just getting over that blow when he gets a visit from Spock's father, Sarek (played by Mark Lenard, as in the TV version) asking where is his son's katra and won't he please give it to him now. It doesn't take a mind meld for Sarek to realize Kirk has no idea what he's talking about. As is then explained, the katra is a Vulcan's living spirit, and needs to be laid to rest on top of the mountain McCoy was babbling about. Sarek also assumed Spock would have mentally transferred the katra to Kirk, his best friend. But Kirk knows the dying Spock couldn't as there was a glass wall between the two. So could he have transferred it to anyone else? After reviewing a tape, it's revealed that the katra instead was transferred to McCoy--hardly Spock's best friend--now locked away in a mental ward ranting about the illogic of it all. Sarek then informs Kirk that a human can carry a Vulcan katra only for so long before they die of having too many consciousnesses in one brain. I don't know where Carol Marcus is during all of this but son David is still part of the Genesis project, now joined by Saavik (Robin Curtis replacing Kirstie Alley.) David seems to be trying to flirt with Saavik, who shows no interest. Of immediate interest to both of them is the detection of an unexpected life form on the Genesis planet. David and Saavik convince the captain of the U.S.S. Grissom, the starship they're boarding, to beam them down and investigate. They find Spock's open casket empty, save for the Vulcan's burial cloth. Back on Earth (as well as its orbit) Kirk, Scotty, Sulu, Chekov, and Uhura very easily spring McCoy from the brig, and swipe the Enterprise from Spacedock. Just before they're about to go into warp drive:

KIRK: My friends...I can't ask you to go any further. Doctor McCoy and I have to do this. The rest of you do not. 
CHEKOV: Admiral, we're losing precious time.
SULU: What course please, Admiral?
KIRK: Mister Scott?
SCOTT: I'd be grateful, Admiral, if you'd give the word. 

Off to Genesis they go! Except Uhura, who for some reason (such as there's only so many minutes in a feature film) is going to meet them on the planet Vulcan. Speaking of which, David and Saavik find a little boy who seems to be from that planet wandering around. They conclude it's Spock, his cells regenerated by Genesis. In the orbit above, the Klingon Bird of Prey happens upon the U.S.S. Grissom. Attempting to merely subdue it and then raid it for information, the Bird of Prey instead accidentally blows the ship to bits. A pissed Klingon commander Kruge subsequently blows his error-prone gunner to bits. Meanwhile, on the planet below, it's snowing! Seems David had added some unstable and untested "proto-matter" to the Genises device, and now everything is aging at an accelerated speed, including Spock. Taking shelter in a cave, David decides to leave it and patrol some, unknowingly leaving Saavik and a now-adolescent Spock to the, ahem, whims of "pon farr", the seven-year itch first mentioned in the episode "Amok Time" that every Vulcan needs to scratch, lest they die of carnal dissatisfaction. David returns none the wiser, not that it matters as the Klingons show up and take all three prisoner. In the orbit above the planet, the Enterprise also shows up and shoots it out with the Bird of Prey. Unfortunate, the former still hasn't been brought quite up to par after the events in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Knowing he's outgunned, Kluge orders Kirk to surrender, an order the latter predictably refuses. So Kluge, who lost his dog in the melee and thus in no mood to play games, orders that one of the prisoners on the planet down below be killed, and it looks like it's going to be Saavik, but David jumps in front of her and takes the fatal knife to the gut instead. Kirk is devastated. He may be the only one. He recovers enough from his grief to play a little trick on those murderous Klingons. He tells Kluge he's ready to surrender to whoever wants to come aboard to get him. After which he sets the Enterprise on auto-destruct (first mentioned in "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield") and then he, McCoy, Scott, Sulu, and Chekov hastily beam off the ship just as some Klingons beam on it. BOOM! No more Enterprise, but no more Klingons, either. Well, Kluge's still around. He beams down to the planet, where he engages Kirk in hand-to-hand combat, which he of course loses along with his life as he falls into a lava flow on the rapidly dissolving world. The Enterprise crew along with Saavik and a now middle-aged Spock beam up to the Bird of Prey, toss the one remaining Klingon aside, and head to Vulcan. It's there that Kirk's greeted by Uhura and Spock's father Sarek:

SAREK: Kirk, I thank you. What you've done is--
KIRK: What I've done, I had to do.
SAREK: But at what cost? Your ship. Your son.
KIRK: If I hadn't tried, the cost would have been my soul.

But what good is saving Spock if he's just a vegetable? In order to remedy that situation, they need to get his katra out of McCoy's head. That's where T'Lar, a Vulcan priestess played by Dame Judith Anderson, comes in. I want you to re-read that sentence. Not specifically Anderson (though she was very good as creepy Mrs. Danvers in Alfred Hitchcock's 1940 film Rebecca) but the part about her being a priestess. It's ironic how pagan these supposedly logical Vulcans carry on in this movie and the earlier TV episode "Amok Time". And things are going to get more pagan yet. In order to restore everybody to the right brain, Spock and McCoy have to under a dangerous ritual called fal tor pan which, if it doesn't go right, could kill them both! A resigned McCoy agrees to participate. It takes all night, but by daybreak, Spock is out of the good doctor's head and back into his own body. But will he be all right? As Sarek says, "Only time will answer". About a minute of time, actually. As Spock passes by, he recognizes Kirk:

SPOCK: My father says you have been my friend...You came back for me.
KIRK: You would have done the same for me.
SPOCK: Why would you do this?
KIRK: Because the needs of the one...outweighs the needs of the many.
SPOCK: I have been...and ever shall be...your friend.
KIRK: Yes! Yes, Spock.
SPOCK: The ship...out of danger?
KIRK: You saved the ship...You saved all of us. Don't you remember?
SPOCK: Jim...Your name is Jim.
KIRK: Yes.

Uhura, Scott, Sulu, Chekov, and McCoy happily gather around Spock at that point, much to the Vulcan's bemusement, as he raises his eyebrows in response (I almost stood up in the theater and cheered when he did that), another sign that he's going to be OK. The film ends with McCoy tapping his forehead.

On his inaugural directorial effort, Leonard Nimoy manages to craft a film that comes closest to the rhythms of the TV show, which some critics at the time actually carped about, though it got generally good reviews. No carping from this corner. Though I won't go so far as to say it's the best, The Search for Spock is my favorite Star Trek movie (despite the title character being largely absent) because it's exactly what I found so appealing about the TV version: it's a somewhat foreboding journey into the Unknown accompanied by people you're quite comfortable being around. Spock's resurrection does rob the ending of The Wrath of Khan of some of its power, but then killing off the character in the first place robbed us of him!

The acting. Christopher Lloyd is only so-so as the bad guy, especially when compared to Ricardo Montalban's Khan. But then this movie isn't The Wrath of Kluge, is it? Nimoy's fine in what's technically a small role that paradoxically is the whole point of the film. William Shatner is most like the Kirk from the TV show, which I for one consider a good thing. It's also an amazingly contradictory thing when you consider the Kirk of the TV show wasn't as much of a lawbreaker as he is here. But he's marked by the same sense of duty, whether the mandate comes from Starfleet Command, or his best friend's father. However, the Best Actor award has to go to DeForest Kelley, this film's neurotic, discombobulated avater.  McCoy has never been funnier, never been more likable, hell, never been more mesmerizing as he is in The Search for Spock. With varying degrees of success, he manages to hold onto his wits, as well as his wit, dealing with an alien intruder, his longtime logical nemesis/colleague, who's taken up unwelcome residence in the irascible doctor's soul ["That green-blooded son of a bitch! It's his revenge for all the arguments he lost."] It's a hoot hearing Spock's voice occasionally come out of McCoy's mouth, but not nearly as hilarious as when it's Kelley doing all the talking, his character channeling Nimoy's quite against his will. Here he is in a bar ordering a drink:

MCCOY: Altair water.
COCKTAIL WAITRESS (giggles) That's not your usual poison.
MCCOY: To expect one to order poison in a bar is not logical!

In the same bar looking to book an illegal space flight when a Federation Security agent happens upon him:
AGENT: Sir, I'm sorry, but your voice is carrying. I don't think you want to be discussing this subject in public.
MCCOY: I'll discuss what I like and who the hell are you?
AGENT: Could I offer you a ride home, Doctor McCoy?
MCCOY: Where's the logic in offering me a ride home, you idiot! If I wanted a ride home, would I be trying to charter a space flight?

McCoy then attempts to give the agent the Vulcan nerve pinch, but to no avail. He may possess Spock's katra but not his fingers.

It's not all laughs. Here's a heartfelt scene of McCoy trying to get through to an unconscious Spock:

"Spock. For God's sake talk to me! ...You struck this damn thing in my head, remember? Remember? Now tell me what to do with it. Help me...I'm gonna tell you something that ...I never thought I'd hear myself say. But it seems that I've missed you. I don't think I could stand to lose you again."

Truth be told, I laughed at that, too.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (another box office hit) ends happily. Until you consider that these people are now fugitives from justice. They'll have to go back to Earth and face up to their misdeeds. First, though, they'll take a little detour--to the 20th century.

Next: Through the Past Darkly (and Lightly!)





  1. As always so very interesting.
    I remember liking that MCCoy had Spock's "Katra." Perfect !
    Thank you for your kind words about Watson.

    cheers, parsnip

  2. Glad you liked it, parsnip, and, again, sorry for your loss.

  3. Yes, it was nice to have a light shined on McCoy.

    Dame Judith as the creepy Mrs. Danvers in Alfred Hitchcock's 1940 film Rebecca) is a stand-out for me, too.

  4. There's nothing like a Dame, Kass.

    (Sorry. Couldn't resist.)


In order to keep the hucksters, humbugs, scoundrels, psychos, morons, and last but not least, artificial intelligentsia at bay, I have decided to turn on comment moderation. On the plus side, I've gotten rid of the word verification.